Researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of Adelaide have discovered that Tasmanian devils had low immune gene diversity for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years before the emergence of Devil Facial Tumour Disease.
The study, published today in the journal Biology letters, involves Environment Institute member Jeremy Austin from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. The study was led by Associate Professor Kathy Belov from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science and also involved senior author Katrina Morris, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.
“It is well known that low genetic diversity is a major extinction risk factor, but when and how devils lost their immune diversity has remained a mystery until now,” said senior author Katrina Morris, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.
“Devils once lived across much of mainland Australia, but became extinct sometime in the last few thousand years,” said Dr Jeremy Austin, from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.
“We looked at subfossil bones of these extinct mainland devils, as well as museum specimens of Tasmanian devils collected over the last 200 years. They capture the genetic diversity of the past allowing us to see how the immune gene diversity has changed over thousands of years.”
The research was supported by funding from the Australian Research Council, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Foundation and Zoos SA.
Read the full Media Release on the University of Sydney’s website to find out more.